All right stop, Collaborate and listen” – Vanilla Ice
In the magical world of public relations, one of the many (or few, depending on what day you’re asking) perks of the job is storytelling, being able to craft a rich narrative to help tell the stories of our clients. But sometimes, finding these stories requires some Sherlock-style investigating (the BBC version, not the Robert Downey Jr. version). While product announcements, press tours, and funding news can help drive media awareness, most companies have untapped resources that have been too long overlooked—content published from a client’s internal team.
A growing number of companies have designated their blogs as a place for employees to share personal experiences and write on timely topics in which they’re passionate. Corporate blogging is nothing new and is still one of the best ways for a company to promote its culture and showcase its personality. But it’s also a great avenue for employees to contribute to the company’s content base, and this is where magic can truly happen.
Now the caveat: While we as PR peeps love to see companies blog and showcase their opinions, we often find ourselves reading these amazing ideas AFTER they’ve already been published and shared with the general public. So we’re kind of feeling that weird mix of jubilation and regret. You know, the one you get after eating an entire carton of ice cream in one sitting.
The byproduct of this feeling is a new term we’ve coined: ‘PR Pause,’ which we feel best describes our recommended approach with these hidden content gold mines. So what exactly is ‘PR Pause?’ It’s pretty simple actually. It’s just us asking clients to ‘hold that thought’ before they publish valuable content on their website. Not stop doing it. Just holding it.
While there are many aspects to PR, content marketing is a strategy many are still working to leverage and improve. And some companies don’t yet realize how valuable their personal insight can really be, and that many of their ideas and blog content can be stretched to a wider audience, driving more external awareness.
In PR, we spend a great deal of time strategizing new and unique ways to position our clients as industry experts. Often times, the solution is right in front of our face… under the “blog” dropdown menu on a company’s website. By taking these ideas and crafting them for a broader audience – which requires the always-uncomfortable conversation of asking clients to strip out any self-promotional content – and making the material more vendor-neutral, these ‘gold mines’ can drive much more awareness than a standard corporate blog post.
By taking pause and thinking through the best channel to distribute internal corporate thinking, the company – and selfishly, PR people too – can reach a whole new level of audience.
Working in public relations is not for the faint of heart. Choosing this career is like choosing to re-live your first day at a new school over and over- comfort from hints of familiarity mixed with anxiety over the unknown, the stress of curveballs here and there, and nonstop activity.
Every day is different; constantly fielding new tasks, attempting to charm strangers, and organizing and re-ordering never-ending to-do lists. While this schedule keeps things interesting, I would be lying if I said that it didn’t wear on you after a while. Those of us in PR chose this career path because we are go getters, scrappy, and hard as nails. We stick around because of the agency support system surrounding us. Don’t be mistaken though, this inter-company “lean on me” mentality didn’t build itself.
A strong focus on the improvement and growth of company culture through office wide non-work related activities is crucial in the upkeep of overall happiness, commitment to performance, and employee retention. Studies found that highly engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their companies than their disengaged counterparts. Never arranging opportunities for team members and co-workers to spend stress-free time together can be a disservice to even the toughest of PR pros.
Every few months, Barokas plans a number of events for its employees. From a scavenger hunt that took over Pioneer Square, to harvesting squash for United Way, to an annual taco-filled beer pong tournament, to organizing a friendly office vs. office competition to see who can collect the most food for Thanksgiving, our events promote camaraderie and help us build relationships with one another outside of our to-do lists. And last month was no exception; BPR chose between Team Peeta and Team Gail at the premiere of The Hunger Games!
With office worries eliminated, these opportunities allow employees to get to know each other as they are “in real life,” garnering a greater understanding and tolerance of different work and communication styles. Additionally, this time spent together fosters a level of trust and openness that allows for the kind of shameless brainstorm sessions where history is made.
So many companies these days casually claim to have the “work hard, play hard” policy. With a fierce dedication to our clients, an average speed of a million miles per minute, and enjoying a few laughs (and beers) along the way, we like to think we live by it.
(For those of you who are not fourteen and/or obsessed with #TeamPeeta, #TeamGale, #TeamKatniss, #TeamButtercup (Prim’s cat), etc., etc., this means only one thing. And that is…GAME. ON.)
When the time came to plan BPR’s Thanksgiving food drive, I, enveloped in warmth, drinking a scrumptious extra-hot soy chai latte out of a Starbucks cheerfully red, snowflake-bespeckled, biodegradable “It’s the HOLIDAYS!” cup, thought of only one thing: a dystopian future characterized by children being forced to battle each other to the death in a cruel, merciless, transformative environment rife with treacheries exceeding that of a pay-per-view cage fight or the gladiatorial brutalities worthy of Caesar himself, also known as The Hunger Games. If I’ve lost you, please ask an eight year old for clarity – seriously, ask any eight year old.
As the release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 was imminent, my fellow volunteer coordinators agreed that a fun and festive death match would be a fantastic way for BPR to give back to the community. In Seattle, we selected Northwest Harvest, Washington’s own hunger relief agency dedicated to providing nutritious food to hungry people statewide in a manner that respects their dignity, and the Union Gospel Mission, a group that bestows emergency care and long-term recovery services to hurting, hungry and homeless people in the greater Seattle area. In Denver, BPR selected Food Bank of the Rockies, which distributes 121,000 meals each day through more than 800 hunger relief partner agencies throughout the Rocky Mountain region.
Come mid-November, the stage was set and the BPR house divided. In Seattle, the Northside was pinned against the neighboring Southside, both fighting against each other, as well as “Team Denver.” Whichever team could accumulate the most turkeys and non-perishable items would win, save their district, and I assured them, not die. How could a death match between the Northside, Southside, and Denver not be both festive and fun?! My thoughts exactly.
Admittedly, we started slow. However, after a few friendly email reminders (which will remain confidential), we started bringing in food. Lots and lots of food…all accounted for and logged via a point system in a convenient Google doc. In case it escaped you, we work in public relations.
When BPR’s Inaugural Thanksgiving Hunger Games ended on November 25, between Seattle and Denver, we had amassed ten turkeys, one tofurky, and 857 non-perishable items like diapers, infant formula, soup, pasta, and canned goods to donate to our respective communities! We made it, no one died (well turkeys, but that’s for another blog post), and Barokas PR made a substantial gesture of thanks to our friends and neighbors.
The winning team, one might inquire? In reality, we are ALL winners. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a completely unbiased shout-out to the very hard working, canned goods-carrying, Costco tripping teammates of Seattle BPR’s SOUTHSIDE!! I salute you.
As anyone on Facebook can attest, their feed has been filled with posts from family and friends giving thanks over the last month. These posts generally cover the same few topics – family, friends, pets, good health, and on and on. While I am thankful for all of those things, there are also a few things I am specifically thankful for as a PR pro – some of which are likely only understood by others in the industry.
Here we go:
1. Scandal – PR often ranks at the top of the list for most stressful jobs. Watching this TV show makes me thankful I am not as stressed out as Olivia Pope (well, at least not most of the time)!
2. Coffee. Repeat.
3. Online media databases – I am unfortunately dating myself, but remember the days of looking up contact info and reporter beats in paperback books? Thankful that we can now say “no thanks” to that labor-intensive time suck.
4. Variety – If you’re in PR, your first thought was probably of the popular entertainment magazine, but that’s not what I’m referencing here. Working at an agency gives you the opportunity to learn about and work in multiple industries. I can’t think of too many other jobs where you have the opportunity to learn (quickly!) each and every day.
5. Reporters that respond to your pitches, even if it’s a no.
6. One degree of separation – if you’re a Kevin Bacon fan, you might think there are six degrees of separation between you and your favorite 80’s actor. In PR, especially in tech PR, it’s more like one degree separating you and someone you want to connect with.
7. Clients that shun the client/vendor mentality and form a true partnership – you are my favorite!
8. An executive left to spend more time with his/her family? Yeh, right. I’m thankful that PR has taught me to read between the lines and not accept things at face value.
9. One of the best parts of PR is getting to help organizations you care are about on a pro bono basis. I’m thankful BPR had the opportunity to support several organizations over the last year including the Awesome Foundation Boulder and Animals Vote.
10. And last, but not least, PR has provided me the opportunity to meet and engage with people who inspire me, both in my personal and professional life. I am thankful to say the list is too long to detail in this blog post, but ranges from a NASA astronaut to two of my favorite singer/songwriters, Jason Mraz and Dave Matthews.
On a personal note, this post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledgement of Jack Bulldog, my furbaby, best friend and Barokas PR mascot. While we had to say goodbye to Jack earlier this year, I am thankful for the love and happiness he brought to the lives of those that knew him each and every day. XOXO.
With $10,000 on the line would you be able to sell one of your talents, an idea or product to a panel of seasoned venture capitalists and angel investors? Could you do it in five minutes? How about 60 seconds? On November 18, that is exactly what 12 Pacific Northwest startup entrepreneurs did at the Washington Technology Industry Association’s (WTIA) First Look Forum in Bellingham. The startups were incredibly diverse in the industries they represented and their previous business experience (think interior design to human cell preservation, and college graduate to CTO level of diversity).
Although there was a packed room full of talent, these four pitches were my favorite:
PurpleWall – an online platform enabling residents to have their dream room remotely decorated by an interior designer who complements their style and budget.
If only I knew this existed when moving into my apartment. Let’s just say I could have saved a few days (okay weeks) perusing miles of IKEA.
React Mobile – transforms the way people call for help in an emergency, and lets your family and friends follow your whereabouts.
My favorite thing about this app is the peace of mind it gives not only the user but also their selected contacts – I can definitely see it being a parent pleaser.
SpeechAce – an app that teaches correct American English pronunciation and eliminates accents one word at a time.
An Italian version of this would have saved me from multiple strange gelato orders (I bet you didn’t know the words “peach” and “fish” differ but just one letter).
VanAir Design – developed an enhanced interior door that allows air to flow through it while shut, and maintains visual and acoustical privacy in an aesthetic manner.
Realizing less than half of my room’s air is circulated at night caught my attention immediately, and now a door that circulates air while closed is no longer an oxymoron with this design.
The entrepreneurs that delivered these presentations all had something in common: they were quick but compelling, informative but to the point, and most of all they got the audience’s attention and engaged them. Could you sell your product or service in 60 seconds?
As a firm, our primary focus is serving tech companies of every shape and size, but we occasionally represent groups that fall outside that category. Recently we were given the opportunity to work with an awesome group, with an awesome mission, doing some awesome things for their community.
I am not usually one to use the word “awesome” so liberally, but anything less would be selling Awesome Boulder short. For a group who freely donates $1000 to better the Boulder, CO area, we were happy to help drive publicity.
Awesome Boulder is made up of ten trustees who work and/or live in the Boulder area, with the common goal to make the community a better place to live. Each month they generously grant $1000 to fund a project that educates, stimulates or educates members of the community.
Projects have included an arts event during Boulder Startup Week, Food for Thought Inc., which provides support for educators to integrate STEM education tools. Most recently, they funded Paint Boulder with Tape, which was intended to get residents to think critically about art in general.
Awesome Boulder is a unique way for an organization to give back to the community. As part of the Awesome Foundation, Awesome Boulder and the other 102 chapters around the world have funded 1,221 projects to date. That’s $1,221,000 given directly to local community projects. More organizations like Awesome Boulder deserve great publicity, and it has been a rewarding opportunity to work with them and flex our PR muscles on a client that falls outside our wheelhouse.
Awesome encourages awesome. An idea and mission as great as Awesome Boulder’s deserves an equally great PR team and campaign, but the same is true for all of our clients. Some can be more challenging to articulate than others, but finding the awesome makes telling the story easier. Whether it is to the New York Times or SD Times, it is easy to get behind the goals and bring our A game on the PR front. And yes, A stands for Awesome.
At Barokas PR, we have a culture of entrepreneurship. We take risks together. We help our clients convert uncertainty into opportunity. There’s a connection between the clients we serve and the stories we help them tell. These similarities are especially evident with our startup clients. Startups and PR are about creating something special and seeing what happens out of the unknown. Taking risks.
Fresh from attending the Techstars Seattle Demo Day 2014, we are reminded of what it means to take a risk. Ten companies graced the Techstars stage to pitch their products designed to address challenges we all encounter far too often, ranging from parenting to business productivity.
Some of my favorite pitches were from companies focused on curated content, including Magicflix, who created a curated video service for kids with safe and age-appropriate digital content, and Garmentory, which designed a curated fashion marketplace. On the B2B side, I was impressed by MightySignal, a team of engineers who created the technology needed to help sales and marketing professionals fix the lead generation model, and LiveStories, which helps non-technical people and overall visual heads understand data analysis through visualizations.
All of them are fulfilling different market gaps, yet the underlying symmetry is that all of them are taking risks. And even though the stakes were high, the room had a strong sense of community overflowing amongst all of these startups, investors and general attendees in the audience.
The key here is community. This is what makes the Seattle startup community differentiated and keeps it growing. Darrell Cavens, CEO, Zulilly, said it best during his keynote,“Seattle has a strong culture of building great businesses because of the committed and supportive people in this city.” Community combined with innovative thinking made the Techstars Seattle Demo Day a success.
Further, the event personally reignited my passion for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM education). It reminded me as to why I love doing tech PR and why I love helping startups earn their first ever media placements. I have a passion for math and science, and started my college life in computer science. Hence, there was something special about seeing these 10 Techstars’ love for problem solving, creativity and smarts in STEM.
In late October, our Denver team proudly sponsored the Colorado leg of XCONOMY’s ongoing “Meet the Xconomists” series. The two-night event – split between Boulder and Denver – featured some of the most prominent names in Colorado startups and technology, including notable heads of local software, IT, biotech, cleantech, and venture capital communities. It also had some incredible artichoke dip. Game changing on every level.
For a place like Colorado – where a new startup launches every 72 hours – it’s great to have XCONOMY in our corner. The publications’ 10 regional affiliates do an amazing job of embracing their respective community’s entrepreneurs and startups, and the Meet the Xconomists series serves as its annual ‘thank you’ to the publication’s ambassadors and supporters. For us, sponsoring the session was a no-brainer.
There was an overabundance of elbow rubbing, and it was nice for the team to finally meet, Michael Davidson, Managing Editor of XCONOMY Boulder/Denver. It’s always great to meet a reporter you’ve pitched many, many times for multiple clients. The look on their face when they recognize you’re the one who keeps inundating their inbox is that perfect mix of realization and terror, with just a twinge of “run!”
But the audience was awesome. The eclectic hodgepodge of a startup scene we call home makes each one-on-one interaction a unique adventure and opportunity to learn something new. Our team’s first interaction with Simple Energy CEO Yoav Lurie – a beloved Barokas client – focused on our mascot Jack giveaways so his newborn daughter – dubbed “the cutest 6-month old in history” – could chew on one.
We also got to connect with one of our newer clients, Final, five super smart guys revolutionizing the broken credit card system. They’re now BFF with their account lead, Rachel, after two hours of schmoozing at the TechStars-hosted Boulder event.
But the pièce de résistance – outside of the aforementioned artichoke dip – was when XCONOMY publisher Jim Edwards – the recipient of not one, but two Jack bulldogs to take home – stood in front of a room full of founders, CEOs and startup extraordinariness to proclaim “if you’re a startup in Colorado, Barokas is your PR agency.”
After some secret high fives amongst our team, we did a George Costanza walk off, said goodbye to all our new connects and headed back to our laptops, where we proceeded to email Michael Davidson to let him know we had some exciting new potential clients he’ll want to write about.
Thanks to the entire XCONOMY team! Please forward that artichoke dip recipe to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call it a San Francisco vs. Seattle ‘thing,’ but if you’d asked me a week ago to name the technology industry’s “biggest,” “most innovative” event, I probably would have said SXSW. After all, Salesforce’s Dreamforce would be too focused on CRM, right? Wrong.
Ask me today – after four days and accumulating over 26 miles of FitBit steps (shameless plug to ServiceSource’s #MyDF14Journey FitBit campaign), networking and dancing with some of the most recognized brands in the technology industry – and I’ll freely admit I was wrong.
According to WSJ, Dreamforce 2014 was equal parts luau, spring break, rock festival, food drive, and TEDx. With over 145,000 registered attendees representing more than 90 countries – and another five million streaming the event live – Dreamforce spilled out of San Francisco’s Moscone Center into adjacent streets and a half dozen nearby hotels, practically shutting down a portion of downtown San Francisco.
Here are 10 pinch-worthy moments to prove Salesforce’s 2014 event wasn’t a dream:
1. Donated: 3 million meals and $9M to children’s hospitals
2. @Benioffsshoes: there’s no place like Dreamforce
3. When SaaSy pics are more popular than ‘Bono’
Seriously, who needs fake bono? (The lady in the background knows I’m getting punk’d)
4. Two words that don’t need an explanation: Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton on potential candidacy in 2016, “I don’t want to make any news today.” Better yet, Hillary’s response to: time for a woman in the White House? “I will vote for her.”
5. Three words from Will.I.Am that are still up for debate: #notawatch
…And the audience whispers to each other…looks like a watch.
6. Not knowing when to disconnect
Don’t worry, if you missed Bruno Mars, Salesforce will “treasure” you, just the “wave” you are.
7. There can never be enough phone or computer charging ports and stations.
8. “Can I scan your badge” is not a pickup line
9. Daily happy hour on the expo floor, and finding the first booth to give away beer
Yeah, yeah…you scan my badge, just give me the beer”
10. Champagne and pizza in a king-sized bed with your co-worker on a Thursday night
Because, well, you both survived
There’s more than celebrities, music and philanthropic activity that make Dreamforce an event worth watching for businesses and the PR pros that represent them. Over the past few years, Salesforce has quickly become a technology juggernaut, with an estimated $5B in annual revenue. The company’s own technology innovations (like just announced Wave and Lightning) and larger partner ecosystem have significantly expanded over the last 12-18 months, now attracting not only traditional sales, marketing and CRM but also cloud, application development, big data and analytics audiences.
What are the implications for PR pros? Here’s my two cents:
First, keep a close eye on Salesforce. If they don’t compete with your client(s) currently, they probably will in the near future at some capacity. Talk to your client(s) about their role in the Salesforce ecosystem – are they a partner, competitor, customer? Do they have a unique POV to insert their company practices and ride the Salesforce ‘wave’?
Second, start preparing now for Dreamforce 2015.If this year’s event growth is any indication, Dreamforce ’15 is going to be unreal. As with any tradeshow, attracting media/analyst attention away from Salesforce and toward your client(s) is incredibly challenging – after all, it is their party. How should you approach news announcements prior to the event? Does it make sense to announce before, during, or after the event? What’s your outreach strategy for on-site media and analyst relations? How can you connect the dots between what Salesforce is doing and what your client is announcing, or already does? Do you have a marquee customer who’s attending the event? Can you offer a point-of-view that isn’t self-promotional?
Lastly, get creative. A wise – not old – man always tells me, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” While this theory is not always true or the best approach for ongoing media and analyst relations, being the loudest and most provocative at tradeshows does have its perks. Outside of product or company news, what other campaigns can you execute – a survey, or contest? This year alone we saw the re-emergence of fake bono, at least half a dozen fully-costumed company mascots including SaaSy and the MuleSoft mule, and last and arguably not least, more booth babes. Maybe next year I’ll win a date with Marc Benioff.
This past weekend as I passed under the famous glittering arches into Austin City Limits Music Festival, I could hardly wait to cross epic performances from Pearl Jam, Eminem, and Sam Smith off my bucket list. I was also on a mission to discover hidden artist treasures at ACL, which I uncovered in the soulful voice of James Bay and the John Cash like twang of Parker Millsap. Before I could hit the stages though, I was compelled to check out the crowning glory of ACL that festival planners had been teasing me with for weeks—The Golden Porta-Potty. I’d already seen pictures of the great wonder; even still I had to get up and personal with this pimped out powder room in real life.
Let’s just say my experience was VIP all the way. First, I arrived to a red carpet where a concierge with a sweet southern accent greeted me. Second, while I was expecting a normal sized facility, this thing was closer to what you’d call a doublewide in Texas. Finally, have you ever been in a Porta-a-John that smelled good—I can now say I have. Now you’re asking, what the heck does all this potty talk have to do with PR? The answer is everything.
Before I even realized it, the PR geniuses of ACL had managed to trick me into thinking a portable bathroom is cool. That got me thinking that in the world of PR, we sometimes need to spray some gold on Porta-Potty products. But don’t get all pissy on me yet, let me offer you the following proof points as to what certain products and Porta-Potties have in common:
They offer a timely solution to a problem
There’s a high customer demand
In either case, people may have the impression based on their previous experiences that they’re all basically the same thing or worse yet, prepared for them to be crappy until proven otherwise.
There you have it. What can be said of Sani-Cans when you squeeze 80,000 people into a park in 93 degree weather for three days can also be said of most products.
I’ve quickly come to the realization that those who are truly stellar in the PR industry can break out a paintbrush and give these average Porta-Potty products the royal gold treatment with just a stroke. They can go beyond praising any product’s practical use, and up the cool factor to start distinguishing them and the company with a coat of creativity and maybe even a touch of mystery. But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Ben Horowitz summarized his similar take on the relationship between s**t and PR in his book The Hard Thing, About Hard Things:
“Anybody can get reporters to write nice things about a sweet, cuddly baby of a company. Only world-class PR people can deal with gangly, pimple-ridden, teenage companies. World-class PR people can turn around negative stories. World-class PR people can turn chicken shit into chicken salad. Turning chicken shit into chicken salad requires long-term, trusted relationships, deep know-how, and the confidence to make use of both appropriately.”
Thanks Austin! I promise to remember to always keep it weird and to bring my mud boots next time.